Sunday, February 25, 2007

January 2007 - Bologna, Italy - An Evening Stroll

We love taking walks through Bologna after dinner - the city seems to glow at night.

Here's a view looking up at the Two Towers - the taller Asinelli on the left and Garisenda on the right.
The Asinelli marks the east end of one of Bologna's widest and busiest streets Via Rizzolli.
Here's another shot of the Asinelli Tower from Piazza della Mercanzia, at the east end of the street market area of Bologna where we shop for all of our meats, cheeses and produce, which reaches all the way to Piazza Maggiore. On the right you can see one of the arches of the beautiful gothic Palazzo della Mercanzia, which was built in the late 1300s and rebuilt after it was destroyed in WWII. It's one of our favorite buildings in the city.
Above is the medieval Palazzo di Re Enzo in the middle of Via Rizzoli. Just behind it, facing Piazza Maggiore, is the Palazzo del Podesta and the Arengo Tower.
Here's the statue of Neptune (and his shadow) in Piazza del Nettuno, just west of the Palazzo di Re Enzo. Palazzo Communale in the background.
He's a lot bigger than he appears in this picture. I'm not.
Here's a close-up of Palazzo Communale and it's beautiful portico. Rising above it is the Torre degli Accursi and Rinald Gandolfi's clock.
That's Casandra in the middle of Piazza Maggiore (in the black jacket) with the Basilica di San Petronio behind her, Palazzo dei Banchi with its glowing portico on the left, and the dome of Santa Maria della Vita in the distance above it.
Here's a great shot of San Petronio in all of its unfinished glory.
Here's Casandra, still in the middle of Piazza Maggiore, only rotated so the Renaissance-style Palazzo del Podesta and the medieval Arengo Tower are behind her.
The street at the southeast corner of Piazza Maggiore leads you to the high-end shopping district of Bologna. That's the back of San Petronio in the center. The building on the right is L'Archiginnasio, which was built in 1563 as the new University of Bologna, bringing together the various faculties, which until then had been located in different areas of the city. Today, the portico under it is home to some of the finest shopping in town, including haute couture shops like Fratelli Rosetti and Pollini. We would definitely be returning another day during business hours.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

January 2007 - Bologna, Italy - The Tower & its Panoramic Views

Today, we woke up to perfectly clear blue skies so we decided to climb Torre Asinelli, the taller of the "Two Towers" and the tallest tower in Bologna. We heard the panoramic views of the city and surrounding areas were spectacular.

Behind Casandra, in the distance, are the Two Towers. Here, you see how much taller Torre Asinelli is.

Here's a close-up of the towers that distorts the difference in height. The Asinelli on the right is more than twice as tall, standing 97 meters high (319 ft), while the Garisenda is just over 48 meters high (158 ft). But the top half of the Garisenda was removed as a precautionary measure - it leans 3.2 meters (10.5 ft) from the center. The Asinelli leans out 2.2 meters (7.3 ft). Both towers have withstood many fires and earthquakes over the centuries.

It's just 498 steps to the top of the Asinelli. Undeterred by the crooked, worn, seemingly unstable wooden stairs, we climbed for a good 20 minutes, anxious to see Bologna from high above.
Along the way, we caught a few glimpses of the city through holes in the tower walls.
From this "window" you could actually see the shadow of the tower we were climbing cast upon the neighboring buildings' rooftops.
When we reached the top, we were rewarded with these amazing views of Bologna and its surrounding landscape. This view (above) faces southwest. In the center of the picture is Piazza Maggiore - the heart and soul of the medieval city.
Here's a southeast view. The Apennine mountain range (visible in the above 2 pictures), which runs up the center of Italy, shifts to the west just before reaching Bologna.
And here's proof that we actually made it to the top.
This is a close up of the Jewish Ghetto where our apartment was located. Notice the density of buildings, their irregular placement, and the maze of streets threaded through them.

Here's a great shot of the shadows of the Asinelli and 3 other towers cast over some of the University buildings along Via Zamboni. Bologna's University - Alma Mater Studiorum, founded in 1088, is the oldest in the world.
This shot looks down at many of the medieval and Renaissance buildings adjacent to the tower. A sea of vermilion and sienna-colored buildings, terracotta-tiled rooftops, marbled sidewalks, and arched porticos, Bologna is considered one of the most architecturally unified cities in Europe. One of our favorite features of the city's architecture are the porticos - almost 38 km in all (more than any other city) - which provide shelter from the elements while you stroll through the city. Most of them were built in the Middle Ages to allow for enlargement of the residences above - new rooms could be added over the porticos without extending into the streets. Though considered private property, the porticos were open to the public and occupied during the day by artisans' and merchant stalls.

This shot shows some of the other medieval towers in the city that we didn't bother to climb.

And here's the Asinelli's vertically and horizontally challenged next door neighbor, the Garisenda.

Above is a close-up of Piazza Maggiore.

With its unfinished facade facing Piazza Maggiore, Basilica di San Petronio (Bologna's patron saint) is the largest and most impressive place of worship in the city.

Right next door to the Asinelli tower is the Basilica di San Bartolomeo. It's copper dome, graceful bell tower, and exquisite gilt gold columns, moldings and ceiling make it one of the prettiest churches in the city.
I wish I could blame the wind but really it's just time for a haircut. It seems that my big New York hair has returned.

This is Bologna's holiest site - San Luca - built atop Monte della Guardia, a couple of miles southwest of the city center. The circular, domed sanctuary was designed by Carlo Francesco Dotti (1723-57) to house the "Madonna and Child," a Byzantine icon considered the work of St. Luke the Evangelist, which is carried through the city in procession every year.

After soaking up the views for a while, we headed down the daunting staircase and walked up Via Zamboni, through the University district, to the Pinacoteca Nazionale - one of Italy's leading painting galleries. Our legs were shaking pretty badly but we forged ahead, anxious to see some old art.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

January 2007 - Bologna, Italy - Orientation

After a couple of days in Turin, we hopped on a train and headed east across northern Italy to Bologna, leaving the Piemonte region (of which Turin is capital) and passing through Lombardia (of which Milan is capital). Bologna is the capital of Emilia-Romagna, one of Italy's most productive regions, being the birthplace of prosciutto ham and parmigiano cheese (Parma), Ferrari (Maranello), Maserati (Modena), and, of course, Mortadella (Bologna). Emilia-Romagna reaches from the Po River to the north, the Apennine Mountains to the south, and the Adriatic Sea to the east.

Bologna is situated in the center of Emilia-Romagna, at the crossroads between Venice (in the Veneto region to the north) and Florence (in Tuscany to the south), Ravenna (to the east) and Parma (to the west). We decided to move to Bologna because it seemed like the perfect place from which to explore much of northern Italy.

We also heard that it's Italy's gastronomic capital! The train couldn't move fast enough.

Bologna's medieval skyline is dominated by towers like these, which were built by rival noble families in the 12th century as defensive fortresses and look-out points. They also stood as a symbol of the family's power and influence - the higher the tower, the more powerful the family. At one time there were as many as 100 towers but today only about 20 stand (or lean). These two, Due Torri, are the city's most famous. The one on the right, Torre degli Asinelli, is the tallest (at nearly 100 meters), and like it's shorter nextdoor neighbor, Torre Garisenda (featured in Dante's "Inferno"), is leaning significantly (though the picture doesn't really show it). In fact, it leans 2.2 meters off center while the shorter one leans a staggering 3.2 meters off center. This would explain their other nickname, Torre Pendenti (leaning towers).

In between the Two Towers (which appear leaning above) is a statue of Saint Petronius, the patron saint of Bologna. Just behind them is the Basilica di San Bartolomeo, featuring paintings by Carracci and Reni.

Here's a better shot of the basilica and its bell tower.

As we walked through the city on our first day, we came across the imposing Fontana di Nettuno (Neptune's Fountain) in the center of Piazza del Nettuno, a small square adjacent to the main square in town, Piazza Maggiore. Designed in 1566 by a Frenchman named Giambologna, the fountain has become a symbol of the city, and is considered "The Giant" by the Bolognese. When it was originally unveiled, it was viewed as "indecent" by the Catholic Church, who forced Giambologna to alter Neptune's left arm to cover his monumental endowment.

Here's another shot of the fountain with part of the medieval Palazzo di Re Enzo in the background. The palazzo was built in 1244 and named after the son of the emperor Frederick II and King of Sardegna, who was imprisoned there until his death.

Here's Casandra standing in Piazza del Nettuno with the fountain behind her and Piazza Maggiore and the Basilica San Petronio in the distance.

And here's the Palazzo del Podesta, which, along with the Arengo tower, was built in the 13th century. The facade was redone during the Renaissance, giving it this more harmonious appearance and massive portico, but the tower remains medieval. This palazzo faces Piazza Maggiore, the civic and political heart of the city, and today houses the main tourist office under the portico and special art exhibitions above it.

This is Palazzo Comunale and Torre degli Accursi, with a clock designed by Rinaldo Gandolfi. Built in the 13th century, the palazzo originally served as the town hall, sitting caddy-corner from Palazzo Podesta. This portion of the facade also overlooks Piazza Maggiore, while the section to the right (just out of the picture) faces the adjacent Piazza del Nettuno. Today, it houses the Collezioni Communali d'Arte and the public library.

And here's Casandra standing in the middle of Piazza Maggiore in front of Basilica di San Petronio, which sits caddy-corner to Palazzo Communale and across from Palazzo Podesta. The medieval building on the right is Palazzo dei Notai, which housed medieval guilds, was constructed in the late 14th Century by incorporating several 13th Century buldings. San Petronio was founded in 1390 and dedicated to Bologna's patron saint. It's one of the largest medieval brick constructions in Italy, and had it been completed according to the original plan, it would have been larger than St. Peter's Basilica in Rome (the world's largest church). When the pope learned of the plans, he withdrew the Church's funding, construction all but came to a hault, and it never became a cathedral.
Notice that only the bottom portion of the facade is covered in the white and pink marble intended to cover the entire structure. Also, it as no dome and no transept to make its footprint a greek or latin cross like most other cathedrals. Despite all of this, it's pretty amazing inside and out.

Finally, on the east side of Piazza Maggiore (to the right) sits the Palazzo dei Banchi, the name of which derives from the money-exchange shops that crowded under its arched porticos in medieval times. In it's present form, it was designed by Giacomo Barozzi, known as Vignola, who turned the facades of the existing medieval buildings into a single uniform facade, while preserving the old roads leading into Piazza Maggiore. The copper dome above it actually crowns the Church of Santa Maria della Vita a couple of blocks away. The tower in the center is Torre Asinelli (one of the Two Towers) and the one on the left is the Arengo Tower just behind the Palazzo del Podesta on the north side of Piazza Maggiore.

After hanging out in Piazza Maggiore for a while, we continued our first walk through the city along Via dell'Independenza, Bologna's main commercial thoroughfare. To the north, the street opens into a large square, Piazza Otto Agosto, which abuts a park, Parco della Montagnola, in front of which stands this dramatic statue.

After walking around for a while, we headed back to our apartment in the Jewish Ghetto. On our way, we passed by Basilica di San Martino Maggiore (above), the church closest to our apartment.

From early Christian times through the middle ages, the jewish people in town were forced to live in this small section of town filled with maze-like streets enclosed by towering walls and gates that were locked at night. Today, it's one of the trendiest areas of town, around the corner from the two towers and 5 minutes from Piazza Maggiore.
Here's Casandra standing on Via dell'Inferno, just around the corner from our apartment. And that's one of the two towers in the background.
Today, the only reminder of the Jewish Ghetto's grim past are its street names. Inferno, on which our apartment building is located, is our favorite.

And here's our front door, on Via Canonica, which meets Inferno at the corner of our building.

This is the formal seating area in our tremendous bedroom. We've never slept in a room lit by a crystal chandelier.

This is the largest and most comfortable bed we've had in Italy so far.

This is our second bedroom, with two twin beds, just begging for visitors!

And here's our cozy little kitchen, though given Bologna's reputation as Italy's culinary heart, we don't expect to use it much.
Stay tuned for our restaurant reviews in future posts.